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A Publication Featuring The Information Services Technology of Maine State Government

 

A Brief History of Computing

By Marion Bowman

Chosen by the Army during World War II to calculate ballistics trajectories (complex differential equations) by hand, the first "computers" were a group of 80 women from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1945 the Army funded an experimental project - the first digital computer machine (the ENIAC). Six of the original "computers" were selected to be among the first programmers challenged by the military to "tame the machine into usefulness".

Historical PC's - Pchistry.gif (4814 bytes)

The ENIAC was the first all-electronic digital computer, a machine of approximately 18,000 vacuum tubes. The first computer programmers had no programming manuals or courses and none of the programming tools of today. Instead, these programmers had to physically program the ballistics trajectories by using logical diagrams, 3000 switches, dozens of cables, and digit trays to physically route the data and program pulses throughout the machine. (Imagine!)

The first computer programmer job description could have read:

WANTED: Computer Programmers. Job requires physical effort, mental creativity, innovative spirit, and a high degree of patience.

These pioneers developed innovative tools including: the first business language to operate across computer platforms (COBOL) and the standards for FORTRAN. Both COBOL and FORTRAN are still in use today. Without question, the ENIAC was "tamed into usefulness" for the benefit of us all. For more information on the first "computers" , visit the WITI (Women In Technology International) web site at http://www.witi.com.

Computer machines were first introduced in Maine State government in the 1960’s, when the Bureau of Accounts and Control began using computers to handle its accounting functions. Initially they began with an IBM/20 , an RCA SPECTRA, and a GE system (which later became HONEYWELL systems - the precursor to today’s Jupiter system).

Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation (DOT), originally located on the fifth floor of the State Office Building, ran an IBM 360/135 (32K) system which was "single threaded" and considered to be "cutting edge" at the time. Later, the State of Maine was among a group of four states to participate in an IBM beta test of DOS/VS. (Yes, DOS was born on mainframes!) In 1976 DOT moved to their new building adjacent to Capitol Park, leaving the IBM 360 computer with the Central Computer Services (now known as the Bureau of Information Services.) The IBM was replaced shortly thereafter with an IBM 370/145 computer that came to us from the University of Maine. Later the machine was upgraded to a 370/148. (This was the first ‘upgrade in-place’ of it’s kind at the time. It had a whopping 64K of storage!) Subsequently the IBM 370 systems have been replaced by several (innovative at the time) systems including: an IBM 4341 CPU, an IBM 4381 CPU, an IBM 3090, and most recently an IBM 9672 /R24. These machines have all been located in the BIS Data Center facility - along with the latest Jupiter system and multiple client server systems. In January the mainframes and other equipment will migrate to Edison Drive. Certainly, the State and University of Maine have been leaders in the field of technology!

Commentary: I began working in the computer technology field in 1970 and have seen the continuing evolution of the machines , the new jobs they created, and the roles of both men and women in the work force evolve. Nothing that has come before compares to the pace, impact, and explosion of technology that’s "just around the corner" in the "technological revolution" that has, and is coming. It has, and will continue to affect us all!